The Cellar Pub will bring in fewer live bands Friday and Saturday nights after revenues dropped significantly in 2014. Cover charge, demand and the internet have played key roles in the change, but the main issue is numbers.
“We’ve been a live music venue since 1994, but at the same time we have to give our students – who are our owners – what they want,” said Patrick Hanson, the pub’s general manager.
“The biggest thing in my mind is eliminating the cover charge, based on the way things have gone in the last three years. Last year we saw the worst attendance on Fridays and Saturdays for bands.”
Before he started working there, The Cellar was one of Atlantic Canada’s more prominent live music venues. Since the early to late 2000s, however, Hanson has seen some serious changes in the scene.
“Back then it was lined up out the door every Friday and Saturday night. A lot of the time it was the same band playing every night. Taste has changed as to what people [aged] 19-25 want to see, or want from entertainment now,” said Hanson.
Instead of one band, there would be two separate acts for Friday and Saturday nights. Instead of two sets for an hour and a half, bands would only play two 45 minute sets.
“Bands were playing shorter sets, you’d see more acts in a night [now]. Then things slowly changed – instead of one band the whole weekend, you’d see a different band for friday and saturday night,” said Hanson.
The Internet was also gaining speed in popularity around this time, its accessibility exploding, along with it the way people experienced music. Hanson says although some musicians have proliferated thanks to the web, it still has a dark side.
“They didn’t need to go to a bar anymore to see new music – they had all the access they wanted to new music right in their hand or laptop,” said Hanson, adding now that people can check out the hosted band before a show, the decision to actually go out and see them is jeopardized.
“They could be the greatest band in the world – doesn’t matter. [Now] it’s cheaper to go get a case of beer and play whatever you want from home. You can be at a concert, except it’s on Youtube,” said Hanson.
Hanson has been in the business for a while and knows his crowd pretty well. These days, he finds the mostly student demographic is simply into being able to relax, eat and drink rather than shell out the bucks and make a night of it.
“They’d rather just be able to come in here and enjoy this space and use it at the lowest cost to them possible.”
Playing with something like cover charge is one of the harder factors, but the general manager knows in the end, his customers want to have a good time for not a lot of money. (They are students, after all.)
Instead of opening at 9 p.m. for bands to play, the Cellar plans to open at 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays, with a the kitchen open until midnight. The pub is planning to host a sort of DJ to play music but also engage the crowd in mini-contests and prizes on a regular basis. Toronto-based punk band Cancer Bats will also take to the stage in late October.
Hanson says although live music is an important part of the Cellar’s business, it comes down to the customer in the end. Music hasn’t been the only driver of the Cellar’s business – food sales are just as important if only because it’s probably the best way to attract a cheap, stressed and starving student.
Change is unavoidable in the restaurant business, and Hanson is optimistic when it comes to revenue and customers.
“If something’s not working you’ve got to change it up. The proof will be in the pudding come the end of this year.”
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